About six years ago I met up with the CEO of a gardening goods brand, I won’t say the name but if you go into any upmarket garden centre you will see their name on everything from wellington boots to leather gardening gloves.

The CEO was telling me stories about just how different his five area sales managers were in terms of character and temperament. One was loud and gregarious in both dress and language, another was quiet but incredibly astute, the third was a “Jack the Lad” character, the fourth was young and ambitious with bags of energy and the final one was, to use his exact words “a bit grey”. He then laughed and said that when they held ‘open events’ where the sales people could invite their best and favourite clients, he commented that the people they brought were “just like them!”

At this point I agreed that in my experience sales people naturally gravitate towards the people in their patch that they feel an affinity with, people they feel at ease with, people that are “just like them”. My question to the CEO was this; “What happens when your areas sales managers have to deal with clients that are NOT like them?”*

We both nodded and agreed that this was a problem. We imagined the utopia of an ideal world where sales territories would be based on client/salesperson personality ‘fit’ and not geography. Of course due to cost of travel and logistics the idea of taking this approach for real seemed madness, but is it?

Even six years ago it probably was but Web 2.0 has revolutionised the way that businesses procure goods and services. Buyers have become even more demanding and they are able to source exactly what they want, pretty much from anyone! Therefore if products and services are rarely unique it is your sales people that make the key difference between you winning or losing the deal. If that is the case can you afford to risk sending in the wrong person?

Web 2.0 has also revolutionised selling. Cold calling has been replaced by targeted research using platforms like Linkedin. Mutual contacts speed access and reinforce relationships with testimonials.

So here’s my conclusion:

I work with territory based sales organisations on a daily basis. Sales people ‘guard’ their client base like Fort Knox and any attempt to suggest that somebody else might have a better chance of ‘cracking’ the target clients are treated with utter contempt.

Sales leaders must address this issue and put the right people on the right accounts at the right time. Better to bruise the odd ego internally than miss out on strategic new business. Better still create a sales culture of mutual co-operation and team, rather than just individual success.

So what about the cost of travel? This obviously has to be taken into account and I am not suggesting you open up the whole of the UK to everyone. What I am suggesting is where a key opportunity exists you put the most appropriate resources exactly where you need them. Quite often initial face to face meetings can be followed up by WebEx, or better still get the client to travel to you and combine the visit with a site tour.

What do you think? All comments and contributions welcome.

*To combat this issue through training, sales people in the late 1980s through the 90s were taught NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). This included techniques to ‘force’ rapport, like body language and voice mirroring. In more recent times DiSC & SDI have been used in an attempt to ensure sales people adapt to whom they are dealing with. I am not trying to discredit this work or these techniques but in my 30 years of selling, the best sales people I have seen are not those that can morph themselves like a chameleon but those that can do two things well; ask great questions and then ‘really’ listen to the answers.